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Taiwan Pavilion

Time:2016-02-01     Click:Loading   【Print】  【Close

Buddhism is the major religion in Taiwan. Taiwanese people predominantly practice Mahayana Buddhism, Confucian principles, local practices and Taoist tradition.[1] (Roles for religious specialists from both Buddhist and Taoist traditions exist on special occasions such as childbirth and funerals). Of these, a smaller number identify more specifically with Chinese Buddhist teachings and institutions, without necessarily eschewing practices from other Asian traditions. Around 35% of the population believes in Buddhism.[2] A distinguishing feature of this form of Buddhism is the practice of vegetarianism.

Taiwan government statistics distinguish Buddhism from Taoism, giving almost equal numbers for both (in 2005, 8 million and 7.6 million, respectively, out of a total population of 23 million).[citation needed] Many of Taiwan's self-declared "Taoists" actually observe the more syncretistic practices associated with Chinese traditional religion which is based on Buddhism. Self-avowed Buddhists may also be adherents of more localized faiths such as Yiguandao, which also emphasize Buddhist figures like Guanyin or Maitreya and espouse vegetarianism. They are mostly vegetarians.

Four local Buddhist teachers whose institutions are especially significant are popularly likened to the "Four Heavenly Kings of Taiwanese Buddhism." They are:

•North (Jinshan): Master Sheng-yen (聖嚴, d. 2009) of Dharma Drum Mountain (法鼓山)
•South (Dashu): Master Hsing Yun (星雲) of Fo Guang Shan (佛光山)
•East (Hualien): Master Cheng Yen (證嚴) of the Tzu Chi Foundation (慈濟基金會)
•West (Nantou): Master Wei Chueh (惟覺) of Chung Tai Shan (中台山)
Several of these figures have been influenced by the Humanistic Buddhism (人間佛教) of Master Yin Shun (印順), a theological approach which has come to distinguish Taiwanese Buddhism. (Sheng-yen's tradition is formally Zen Buddhism; Yin Shun was inspired by Taixu, who is less well known in Taiwan.) Their missions have branches all over the world. In a reversal of the older historical relationship, these Taiwanese Buddhists have played important roles in the revival of Buddhism in China.

This notion of ‘Humanistic Buddhism’ promotes a more direct relationship between Buddhist communities and the wider society. Also known as Socially Engaged Buddhism, its focuses on the improvement of society through participation in aspects such as environmental conservation. As mentioned before a large proportion of mainstream Buddhist institutions emphasize this approach.[3][4]

Venerable Taixu (1890-1947) contributed greatly to this approach, as he was somewhat disappointed with a continuous focus on only ritual and ceremony.[5] Taixu went about promoting more direct contributions to society through the Buddhist community. In fact he had three goals which were to spread Buddhism through the monastic community, encourage lay people to act according to Buddhist teachings in order to bring enlightenment to their lives and to establish Mahayana Buddhism as a significant component not only domestically but also internationally.[5]

Today Buddhist institutions are responsible for a number of public goods such as colleges and hospitals as well as disaster relief.[6] This approach has filtered down to current generations and has received widespread support. In fact Taixu’s approach can be directly attributed to the rapid growth in Buddhism experienced over the past few decades. There is some discrepancy between specific institutions on the role Buddhism should play in the political arena. Generally speaking members of Buddhist institutions are advised against participating in politics. For example, members of the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist school are encouraged to promote modern values such as equality, freedom and reason however concern should not necessarily lead to an intrusion into the political sphere.[5] It is also worth noting that many members of these mainstream Buddhist institutions are derived from the middle class.[7] Among many social groups in Taiwanese society the middle class has greatly benefited from Taiwan’s economic success. With more free time these members of society seek to engage in activities that give meaning to their lives and for many Buddhist institutions are able to provide this.

Also, these Buddhist schools contribute through cultural events and practices by publishing reading materials and by providing classes for calligraphy, dance and art.[5] Not only do Buddhist institutions contribute directly to society but they also seem to embed themselves in the lives of many through this emphasis on culture. It enables all citizens to include Buddhism in their lives and removes barriers between monks and nuns performing rituals in a far away monastery and the requirements of everyday life. This in turn creates a sense of belonging and identity within Taiwanese society helping to propagate Buddhism for many generations to come.

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